Esper Hussar in Modern
By Neil T Stacey
Sky Hussar. Five mana for a 4/3 flier that untaps all your creatures when it enters the battlefield. This isn’t a card you should be interested in actually casting. It’s the forecast ability that draws the eye. It lets you draw an extra card in your upkeep, at the low cost of tapping two white or blue creatures. That’s an extra card every turn, for no mana cost.
It’s like a Phyrexian Arena that you don’t even have to cast and doesn’t cost life. It can even be deployed to attack and block in a pinch. It would be surprising if no-one else had attempted to break this card before and as it turns out, Travis Woo has talked about it at length over on ChannelFireball.com:
His builds and the others that he discusses all aim to use cheap blue creatures to get the Sky Hussar draw engine online. These decks have never really caught on. Card advantage doesn’t amount to much if you can’t use it to interfere with whatever your opponent is trying to do; it doesn’t matter how many cards you have in hand when you get attacked by an infinite number of Pestermite copies.
With that in mind, I plan to go a different direction with Sky Hussar. I want disruption and removal so I can get the best use out of the extra cards. The difficulty there, of course, is that having a high number of non-creature spells constrains the creature density of the deck, making it difficult to have enough creatures out to draw cards with Sky Hussar. Maybe these guys can help out with that:
Each of these cards represent four creatures in one card, perfect for ensuring that Sky Hussar comes online. They’re also solid defensive spells, helping us get to the late-game where our card advantage engine really shines.
The deck I’m on at present looks like this:
Esper Hussar (Modern) by Neil Stacey
4x Squadron Hawk
3x Snapcaster Mage
4x Sky Hussar
Instants and Sorceries (24):
2x Slaughter Pact
2x Inquisition of Kozilek
3x Path to Exile
4x Lingering Souls
3x Spectral Procession
2x Sphinx’s Revelation
2x Detention Sphere
1x Hallowed Fountain
2x Mystic Gate
4x Godless Shrine
2x Flooded Strand
4x Marsh Flats
3x Celestial Colonnade
2x Forbidding Watchtower
2x Vault of the Archangel
This deck is heavier on disruption than most, with five one-mana discard spells, backed by Snapcaster Mage, to make sure the game gets to top-deck mode. Speaking of Snapcaster Mage, it’s possible to tap him to Sky Hussar. I’ve only found room for three, but I would consider playing the full set to maximize our interactive spells while adding creatures that tap to the Hussar. The man-lands can also tap to the Hussar so they’re doing double duty and giving us an edge in attrition games.
The removal suite emphasises mana efficiency to make sure that we survive the early turns where our tapped lands are slowing us down. Slaughter Pact is particularly good since it lets us tap out for token-makers or big plays like Sphinx’s Revelation without putting our shields down. The pair of Detention Spheres serve as catch-all answers to problematic cards. There are two copies of Negate since we need counter-magic with a light commitment to blue and have a ton of other ways to deal with creatures.
The mid-game is about getting tokens out and starting to pull away in card advantage. We get in front on cards through a number of routes: the Sky Hussar engine, flashing back Lingering Souls, using Snapcaster Mage or simply casting Sphinx’s Revelation. Conspicuously absent, however, is a true finisher. Our end-game instead consists of pecking away with tokens and man-lands or eventually attacking with a Sky Hussar. It’s unspectacular but it gets the job done, and it keeps down the number of cards without defensive utility.
There are a lot of different directions to go with this deck. The addition of a few planeswalkers would offer a stronger late-game and a faster clock. Sorin, Solemn Visitor powers up tokens and recoups lost life but Elspeth, Knight Errant makes tokens that can be tapped to Sky Hussar.
Gifts Ungiven could add a whole new dimension to the build and it’s something I’ll be working on. Whether there’s space for a Gifts package alongside the deck’s plan A is questionable but then again, Gifts might just be better than plan A anyway.
I also haven’t managed to work Serum Visions in and that could be an error. This deck is dependent on finding the right answers and it would also benefit from having ways to flush away dead discard spells in the late game.
The other card I would have loved to have found a slot for is Esper Charm. Instant speed Mind Rot can be utterly back-breaking at the right moment. Drawing two cards is always solid and destroying an enchantment is sometimes relevant in Modern, particularly in a deck susceptible to Blood Moon.
So how is this deck positioned right now?
Pro Tour Fate Reforged solidified the Modern metagame, with Junk and Burn leading the pack in terms of numbers of decks making Day Two. Splinter Twin won the whole thing, so it is clearly here to stay as a Modern frontrunner.
Burn is a difficult matchup, since this deck presents a glacial clock and doesn’t gain a ton of life. This matchup can be improved by swapping Spectral Procession for Timely Reinforcements, possibly even in the mainboard if your metagame demands it.
The Splinter Twin combo isn’t of much concern for this deck with its excellent suite of targeted removal and discard. It’s counter-intuitive against a combo deck but the key to beating Twin with this deck is preserving your life total so you can’t be burned out before getting some sort of life-gain online. RUG Twin with Tarmogoyf will be difficult to beat, demanding multiple cheap removal spells in hand before it’s safe to deal with a ‘goyf.
Junk presents an attrition game which this deck is superbly set up to win. I recommend siding out some of the broad answers and bringing in Go For the Throat to get access to some more cheap removal for Tarmogoyf and friends. Speaking of sideboard, Esper gets a lot of solid options after boarding, with hate cards for a lot of the scary matchups. I really like this deck, but then again I’m a sucker for value at the expense of power level.
I already talked about the recent Modern bannings a couple of weeks ago, probably along with every writer on every other Magic website. I’d be pushing my luck to try another whole article on the topic so I’ll just put a few more of my thoughts here.
Firstly, I would love to see Umezawa’s Jitte unbanned. Equipment has proven to be pretty weak in Modern. Cranial Plating has its niche in Affinity but aside from that the only equipment that is commonly played is Batterskull, which is very rarely cast with honest intention of ever paying the equip cost.
It’s hard to imagine a world where Modern becomes oppressed or even dominated by a deck that plays creatures and attaches equipment to them. I see very little danger in unbanning the Jitte. When I’ve had debates about unbanning Jitte, the question hasn’t been whether it would be broken but whether it would even be good. I’d like a chance to find out.
Secondly, I’ve begun to wonder if Tarmogoyf is good for the format. Wizards has justified previous bans by explaining that if a certain card is better than its alternatives by a large enough margin, then it forces out variations on a strategy by being the only real option for a particular role. It seems to me that if your game plan is attacking and blocking, then there are few options other than sleeving up your friendly neighbourhood Lhurgoyf.
Tarmogoyf is so strong that it doesn’t just push aside other options in its own mana slot; in fact it’s generally a bigger body than anything else up to four mana, outclassing even Siege Rhino in some circumstances. In a combo deck like Tarmo Twin it offers a way to be a better creature deck than an opposing creature deck whenever they draw the ‘goyf and their opponent doesn’t. At Grand Prix Kobe, Tarmogoyf even featured in an Affinity deck in the Top 8, taking the two-drop slot from Arcbound Ravager. If a creature is better than Arcbound Ravager in a deck with 36 artifacts, it might just be too efficient.
What do the rest of you think? Does the ‘goyf have to go? Would banning it open up a bunch of new creature decks, or would it weaken creature-based strategies and let combo run rampant?